The IV International Conference Inaugurated

With the impressive presence of 500 delegates from the majority of countries of the world raising their flags and songs of struggle and hope, this Monday, June 14 the IV International Conference of the Via Campesina was inaugurated in Itaicí, in Sao Paulo state of Brazil. The passionate opening ’mística’ ceremony was presented by youth, men and women from all the continents. This convergence of the most important peasant farmer and indigenous peoples of the world is meeting again to debate and define its strategies in confronting the new challenges the neo-liberal model is imposing on small-scale family farming. To that end, the IV Conference will focus on three key themes: food sovereignty, the defense of seeds and the struggle for agrarian reform.

These themes were raised in the inaugural event in which Egidio Brunetto of the Landless Rural Workers Movement of Brazil (MST) and Francisca Rodríguez, leader of the Indigenous and Rural Women’s Association of Chile (ANAMURI).

After welcoming all the delegates, the MST leader reflected on the importance of the peasant farmers for the future of humanity. "Human beings depend on the foods that are the fruits of the sun, earth, water and oxygen, and the production of these foods depends principally on the peasant farmers, men and women. For that reason, if the peasant farmers disappear, humanity itself will disappear" Brunetto remarked, at the same time pointing out the historic importance of women in the discovery of seeds and the role they play today in the Via Campesina.

The defense of food sovereignty and of seeds and agrarian reform constitutes a new historic commitment. To achieve that, Brunetto continued, we need to be "highly united, highly organized and highly democratic, which is why this conference is so important, important as well for defending our cultural identity, our flags and our symbols. Given such signs, it is understood among us in the Via Campesina that the peasant farmers of the entire world have the same problems and we need to confront them together."

Francisca Rodríguez of ANAMURI was chosen to inaugurate the event and her remarks summed up 12 years of the struggle of the Via Campesina to globalize the values that they defend: land, food, dignity and life, the very principles that serve as the theme of this Fourth Conference.

"The Earth has unified the struggle of peasant farmers, men and women, and of indigenous peoples. The Earth has made us walk together, recognize who we are, value ourselves again and advance on the path of organization and struggle," said Francisca Rodríguez, while hundreds of voices pierced the night with slogans of combativeness: globalize the struggle, globalize hope!!!

The Chilean leader then remarked that if in previous events the key themes of struggle and the essential equality between men and women of the countryside had already been determined, this Fourth Conference had the objective of projecting into the world the challenge of achieving food sovereignty, a "goal nourished by the spirit of the peasant farmers who disseminate throughout the world the seeds to produce foods."

Francisca Rodríguez also raised up the contributions of the women and youth assemblies realized in Sao Paulo from June 12-13, above all the commitment to strengthen the organizations of the Via Campesina in order to struggle for equality in the countryside, to struggle for food sovereignty, and to make agrarian reform a reality.

The Mística that moves the social movements of the world.
The IV International Conference of the Via Campesina had an emotional and inspiring opening mística ceremony. The men and women peasants showed in choruses, music and gestures the richness of the peasant culture of nearly 100 countries participating in this Conference. The ’mística’ is a constant presence in the mobilizations of the Via Campesina nourishing the ideal that a different world is possible in popular organization. These ceremonies depict those situations of oppression lived by the peasant and their uprisings waged in resistance of this system. Interestingly the ’místicas’ provide a perfect mixture of the political discussions that take place within the organizations and the festive atmosphere created in these moments, in which emotion surges above and beyond rational thought and lights the hope of the possibility of changing the world. The opening night of the Conference, the ’mística’ of the earth, so characteristic of peasant life, involved the participants who had anxiously awaited this moment. To begin, the ’mística’ ceremony depicted situations of war, violence and the indifference accorded to humans in this world, where the logic of the market dominates. This was followed by a demonstration that the union of the poor of the countryside opens the possibility of rebuilding this world with a vision of social justice. A moment of great emotion came when boys and girls representing the hope of change came on the scene carrying bread, and two flags of the Via Campesina were raised, and then the bread was shared with all the participants, symbolic of solidarity. A video was shown that depicted the repression suffered by peasants, the mobilizations and alternatives proposed by the social movements of the world. The opening ’mística’ ceremony demonstrated its importance in this International Conference as a necessary aspect of the strengthening of hope, since it touches the spirit to effect change and the ideals of the persons who direct and integrate these social organizations of the countryside and of social struggle. Amidst the magical choruses of "Imagine" by John Lennon and a sense of reverence on the birthday of Ernesto Che Guevara, of songs and combative slogans for life, the IV Conference was set in motion at a time of great historic challenge not only for the future of the peasant farmers but of humanity itself.

Itaici, SP, 15 de junio del 2004